In just their fourth year of existence, the West Virginia Power have established themselves as a perennial championship contender in the South Atlantic League.
Zelous Wheeler drove in the go-ahead run in the eighth and Mike Ramlow tossed 3 1/3 innings of shutout relief Saturday as the Power beat the Lake County Captains, 4-1, in the decisive third game of their SAL first-round series.
West Virginia returned to the Championship Series, a year after getting swept by the Columbus Catfish.
The game was knotted at 1-1 with two outs in the eighth, when Steffan Wilson reached on an error by Captains third baseman Karexon Sanchez. After a wild pitch, Caleb Gindl was intentionally walked to get to Wheeler, who lined a base hit to left field to score Wilson. Curt Rindal followed with a two-run double to provide insurance.
"We had nobody on and two outs there and [Wheeler] came up big at that point with that base hit," said Power manager Jeff Isom. "We've gotten big hits like that all year and tonight we got another one."
Ramlow (1-0) came up big in the fifth, when he inherited a bases-loaded, one-out situation. He retired Todd Martin on a groundout and got Dustin Realini to fly to the warning track in center field to keep the game tied. The 22-year-old left-hander also retired the Captains in order in the sixth and seventh before leaving with two on and two out in eighth.
"We wouldn't have had the chance to win it late if he [Ramlow] didn't do the job there," Isom said. "We had our backs against the wall there and he did an excellent job in a tough spot. That fly ball was just hit to the wrong part of the park."
Robert Wooten bailed out Ramlow and recorded the final five outs, fanning three, for the save.
Eric Farris scored on a balk in the opening inning and Wheeler went 2-for-3 for West Virginia, which will take on the Augusta GreenJackets in the best-of-5 Finals. Augusta swept the Asheville Tourists in the first round.
"Their pitching is the best in the league," Isom noted. "The ball doesn't travel well in their park and we're the kind of team that relies on the home runs once in a while and hitting the ball in the gaps. Their pitching staff has our number, but we're gonna try to change some things."
Power starter Lucas Luetge allowed one run on five hits and two walks while striking out five over 4 1/3 innings.
Jonathan Holt (0-1) was charged with three unearned runs on three hits and a walk with one strikeout in 2 1/3 frames. Captains starter Eric Berger went three innings and yielded one run on two hits and two walks with four strikeouts.
Realini singled and scored on Matthew Brown's double in the fourth and Matt McBride had two hits for the Captains.